Catch a ride on the Polar Express in Aurora
It's full speed ahead with holiday cheer when the Polar Express train makes its rounds during the first two December weekends at Blackberry Farm.
Courtesy of Fox Valley Park District
The four-day respite that kicks off on Thanksgiving Day is always welcome, especially when it involves the celebration of family, friends and other things we cherish most, like food, football and naps.
The holiday season has officially begun, as tomorrow's Black Friday hysteria will evidence. This seasonal segue always happens quickly. No sooner do autumn leaves fall when the glittering lights of Christmas begin to multiply. Soon, neighborhoods and towns will be aglow in holiday spirit.
For as magical as this transformation is, we're four weeks behind Cori Buis, who's been busily preparing Blackberry Farm with dazzling displays of holiday cheer.
Next Saturday, it all comes to life as the Polar Express train takes to the track for the first two weekends (Dec. 1-2 and 8-9).
Buis has been at this since Halloween, swapping pumpkin decorations for Yuletide lights — "lots and lots and lots of lights," she says, having lost count.
"They run from the park entrance all the way to the train depot. It's an amazing sight when they're all lit up."
It is truly an awe-inspiring sight as thousands of tiny, glittering lights coalesce to create the sparkling views that turn Blackberry Farm into a winter wonderland.
The Polar Express train is awash in Christmas lights as well, each rail car adorned with a swash of bright holiday spirit as passengers ride to the virtual North Pole. Like old times, their ticket is punched as they board the train, and off they go into another world.
The magical journey around the periphery of Lake Gregory will feel like a trip to a faraway land, as Christmas music reverberates throughout the park, serenading passengers with holiday melodies.
In a heartwarming parallel to the little boy in the famous book and film, children will hear the screeching metal wheels of the train, and then they'll actually witness Santa in person — on his sleigh — in the blacksmith shop at the Early Streets Museum.
"It's always a surreal experience for the kids. To see the expressions on their faces is just priceless — wide-eyed and awe-struck," said Buis. "And they always ask, 'Is that really Santa's sleigh?'"
The Blackberry Farm gift shop will be open as well, with hundreds of the popular Christmas ornaments and unique holiday decorations on sale. Visitors will also be able to witness the many new features and renovations completed last summer as part of a modern makeover at Blackberry, including the adventure playground, events plaza and entertainment shelter.
Per tradition, the old favorites remain, including the storyteller in the one-room schoolhouse who will regale guests with readings from "The Polar Express." A new feature this year will be complimentary hot chocolate and cookies, courtesy of Aldi.
As they say, Christmas is for children, but remember — all of us adults were children once upon a time, too, and we like to relive old times.
"The best part of Polar Express is simply seeing how much people enjoy it — kids and adults alike," said Buis.
You will believe in Santa after a ride on the Polar Express train. The timeless charm this classic story exudes is based on the power of belief — something that resonates across generations and cultures. The show of lights — and holiday spirit — is positively enlightening.
Catch the Polar Express train at Blackberry Farm from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1-2 and Dec. 8-9. Admission is $4 per person. For details, call (630) 892-1550.
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